February 12th, 2022
The White Desert was first established as a protected area in 2002. It is located 45 km (28 mi) north of the town of Qsar El Farafra. The park is the site of large white chalk rock formations, created through erosion by wind and sand. It is also the site of cliffs (at the northern end of the Farafra Depression), sand dunes (part of the Great Sand Sea), as well as Wadi Hennis and oases at Ain El Maqfi and Ain El Wadi.
The park serves as the refuge for various animals, including the endangered Rhim gazelle and the vulnerable Dorcas gazelle, red and fennec foxes and sand cats.
White Desert National Park covers an area of 3,010 km2 (1,160 sq mi). The altitude in the park varies from 32 to 353 m (105 to 1,158 ft) above sea level.
Saturday morning we checked out of the Marriott and were picked up at 8 by Sayed for a couple of nights in the White Desert.
The drive to Bahariya Oasis took about 3.5 hours including a stop at a highway rest stop for some light sandwiches for breakfast and tea.
Along the drive we saw this curious cone shaped structures which we were told were pigeon coops – they are raised to be eaten.
We arrived in Bahariya around 11:30 and our 4×4 driver met us and lead us to the place to pick up the vehicle to be used for the trip and where Sayed would leave his car. For some reason (probably our fault as we didn’t really as for details), we were in the dark about most of what was going to happen the next couple of days. Sayed gave us little detail about it and we didn’t realize until well into the weekend, he didn’t know much either!
We were served quite a big lunch, Bedouin style in a fancy salon area
We then packed up to go to desert in a land cruiser with the driver (Omar) and a cook (Islam) – who sat in the front seat with Sayed and we had the horizontal side benches in the back in front of the gear that was packed there. More gear was packed on the roof.
Our first stop was to view the Black Desert. There was a trail up the mountain and Doug climbed up to see the view. Sayed attempt it as well and he made it about half way.
The Black Desert is a region of volcano-shaped and widely spaced mounds, distributed along about 30 km (19 mi) in western Egypt between the White Desert in the south and the Bahariya Oasis in the north. Most of its mounds are capped by basalt sills, giving them the characteristic black color.
Our next stop was at Crystal Mountain:
The origin of the crystal mountain is interesting. The hill was opened by chance during work on the road from Farafra to Bahariya and was partly destroyed. The material was installed on the road. Today it is the Crystal Mountain, a popular stop for tourists. It is often called the Jewel of the Desert. Crystal Mountain was formed by quartzite crystals and looks amazing in the sun’s rays. There are more than 12 types of Crystal, clustered with each other in a huge mountain mass.
A few decades ago, it was found by accident. For several years residents used the minerals to build the road. When researchers realized the uniqueness of this place, Crystal Mountain was put under protection. Today, it is an unmissable destination for all desert tours.
We spent about 20 minutes here in the afternoon sun before driving to the Aqabat Lookout off the highway – this is one of the many entrances to the White Desert.
The access into the site is in somewhat deep sand. We stopped for photos and then they told us that we were going to camp amoung the rocks/hills.
We decided we’d walk. It was about 1.5 miles into the campsite in the beautiful scenery.
It was a beautiful night with a nearly full moon but it was cold (single digits C and around 40F). Omar had set up three tents by the time we arrived (one for each of us including Sayed) and made a fire. Islam cooked dinner.
A curious little fox came round after dinner (we tried to get pics but he was quite skittish and wouldn’t stand still long enough! Omar fed him scraps and an egg and he went on his way.
Each tent had a mat, sleeping bag and a heavy camel blanket to keep us warm but no pillow. As usual we awoke early the next day and saw the sun came up. We went for walks and when it was possible to get a cell signal, did a Spanish lesson. No one else woke up until 8:30 and that was just Sayed. When the other two finally got up, we passed on breakfast but they went ahead and made it for themselves. We finally left at 10:30. We were not pleased as we are morning people and to us this was such a waste of a beautiful sunny day. Again, this was part of not knowing the “plan”.
Within fifteen minutes of leaving we got a flat tire!
Fran built an inuksuk while waiting:
Then less than half an hour later and made a stop at an oasis for tea after they had just had breakfast!
We spent the rest of the day seeing the various white rock formations of the White Desert – we now understand that the “white” meant the rocks, not the sand. We were disappointed not to see big sand dunes but the rock formations were fantastic.
There were a lot of black pieces of “rock” around which at first we at first thought was petrified coral from the long dead sea that used to cover this area but finally figured out it was iron pyrite.
We stopped at another oasis for lunch.
We ended that afternoon at the famous “Mushroom Rock” and the “crew” drove to a nearby spot to set up the tents and kitchen while we walked around.
Due to the late lunch (3:30) we weren’t hungry so we kept saying they didn’t need to make us a big dinner but they barbequed chicken over the fire and finally at 8:30, dinner was ready. Fran had a bowl of soup (they always make great soups here!). Doug passed on dinner since it was so late.
Due to the lateness of our start today, we thought we should make a plan for the morning before calling it a night as we wanted to be back in Cairo by 4 if at all possible (before the traffic gets bad as our hotel is downtown). Everyone agreed to leave by seven am and after another cold night, we were up at six but at 6:30 the driver and cook were still not up. Sayed had to push after we made a fuss and we got going by 7:30.
We got to Bahariya and they took us on a small tour of the oasis area. We saw the only temple built in honour of Alexander the Great (or rather what was left of it)
We went to see the largest oasis in Bahariya
a hot spring – which we declined to get into
the many, many date plantations
and an old British WWII Air Force lookout in the hills
We had told Sayed we wanted to get some dates while here as they are supposed to be the best in the country so Omar took us to a shop where we bought some fresh and dried ones. (Note: we much preferred the dried ones to the fresh.)
We returned to the place to drop off the Land Cruiser and pick up Sayed’s car and said our goodbyes. It was mostly a good excursion but we’d recommend to others than one night is probably enough as it seemed like they were stretching it doing two unless you’ve never experienced the desert and maybe in warmer (but not hot) weather. But maybe that’s just us!
We got about 500m away when Sayed noticed a little girl running after us. She was the daughter of the owner of the tour company and said we had to go back as Omar and Islam had a gift for us. She climbed into the car and back we went. We were given another package of dates!
No sooner had we driven about 30 minutes out of town and the car overheated and died! It would not start again. Sayed was very apologetic and said he’d pay for us to take a mini bus to get to the city and/or flag down a car. After a few attempts, two nice men in a very nice car agreed to drive us to the outskirts of the city near the Marriott where we could catch an Uber into the city. Turns out the passenger was the owner of a White desert tour company and spoke a little English. We learned later that he and Sayed had some friends in common (they were in touch via WhatsApp) and I guess we misunderstood them at some point because they told Sayed they offered to drive us all the way into Cairo!
We Ubered into the city in the world’s slowest cab! We were dropped off around 4 and it took till 5:30 to get back to the Isis Hotel – about 40 minutes longer than it should have taken. We felt like we were on the Amazing Race fighting to get to the mat second last so as not to get eliminated! He even stopped for gas and kept driving in the parking lane; he seemed to have no sense of the size of his car. He white knuckled the steering wheel in one hand and his phone with directions in the left six inches from his face!
We had him drop us off about 500 m before our hotel. We got the luggage we left behind, went to our room, showered and then did a packing switcharoo – we swapped out warm clothes for summer ones for the next 11 days of our time in Egypt.
We took hundreds of pics so there are plenty more to look through in the galleries! Enjoy – we did!